Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that they have confirmed the first U.S. case of the Middle East respiratory virus, or MERS, within U.S. borders.
The CDC said the victim is a health care provider who recently traveled to Saudi Arabia, according to the CDC, before the person traveled through London, Chicago and finally Indiana, where the patient is now being treated.
"While centered in the Arabian peninsula, MERS is now in our heartland," said Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Schuchat said the patient is in "an isolated and stable condition." She said the patient began to experience shortness of breath, coughing and fever on April 27, after traveling to Saudi Arabia.
Officials declined to mention the gender of the patient, or confirm how he or she became infected, or how many people came in contact with the patient.
MERS, a SARS-like viral disease first detected in 2012, has caused outbreaks in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia. There have also been sporadic cases throughout the world including Britain, Greece, France, Italy and Malaysia.
So far, about 400 people in 12 countries have been confirmed to have MERS by the World Health Organization. The WHO says 93 have died, but the Saudi health agency says deaths within Saudi Arabia have already topped 100.
The widespread nature of the outbreaks has raised concerns that the disease could spread easily, especially through infected airline passengers.
But Schuchat said that people shouldn’t yet worry about changing their travel plans, saying there was a low risk of MERS spreading at this point.
“It is understandable that some may be concerned about this situation, but this first U.S. case of MERS infection represents a very low risk to the general public,” she said.
Scientists are not yet sure how the MERS virus is transmitted to people, but it has been found in bats and camels, and many experts say camels are the most likely animal from which humans are becoming infected.
The virus is similar to the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which emerged in China in 2002 and killed some 800 people.
Al Jazeera and wire services